Since the mid-1990s, when Subaru of America, Inc. launched its new generation of all-model All-Wheel Drive (AWD) vehicles, Subaru loyalists and new customers alike have recognized the value of Subaru design and innovation. Now Subaru has chosen to extend customer satisfaction and outstanding value beyond Subaru vehicles to the entire Subaru ownership experience.
Subaru calls this shift The Subaru Difference, a company-wide, customer-focused corporate philosophy that puts the Subaru customer first in all decisions and actions. This new perspective affects all of the companys programs, including vehicle design and engineering, product quality, the improvement of the dealership environment, employee training, customer service and overall vehicle sales and service.
We want to create a philosophy and culture centered around a much stronger focus on customers, not just a program, says Keith Tilton, Subaru of America, Inc. Vice President of Customer Relationships and Loyalty. We want our customers to be satisfied throughout their entire ownership experience and build within them a sense of loyalty to the brand.
Because the Subaru customer relationship begins at the dealership, Subaru believes that the dealership appearance should reflect Subaru brand themes, such as confidence and adventure, and that the facility should exceed customer expectations.
In 1995, Subaru of America, Inc. (SOA) began an intensive series of customer focus groups to find out not only what customers wanted in a dealership, but also what they did not want.
They wanted cleanliness and lack of clutter. They wanted to feel comfortable, not hassled. They wanted lots of information. They wanted to be reminded that they were dealing with a first-class organization that was behind their first-class vehicles. They wanted a place to establish and maintain a relationship.
Armed with this information, SOA developed the Signature of Excellence retail environment. With cooperation from Subaru dealers, SOA established design standards, signage, space planning, merchandising and information elements. A new exterior design was adopted, featuring a stone brand icon tower. Interior flow was refined, and top-quality furniture and fixtures were specified and installed. Materials, colors and textures were made consistent from location to location, reinforcing the Subaru brand identity nationwide.
The cornerstone of the Signature of Excellence process is design intent. An architectural planner surveys the facility, interviews the dealer, and determines the best ways to meet customer needs in the dealership. The purpose of the design-intent visit is to create a modern, open, comfortable space that will make it easy for customers to find what theyre looking for. The extent of the redesign is contingent on the amount of work that will be required to meet the goals of the program. The program could mandate a simple remodeling of the current dealership, or, if required, the construction of an entirely new facility.
After the design-intent analysis is complete, the dealer receives a color rendering of the proposed design, blueprints, standards, material samples and specifications. SOA supplies resources for materials, fixtures, furniture and architectural details, and the dealer arranges for local contracting and construction.
Nationwide, 75 dealerships have been built or remodeled, and 140 more are slated for completion in 2002. New elements are added regularly to each dealership to keep everything fresh and appealing.
The Signature of Excellence retail environment program is an ongoing process, so if dealers are unable to undergo a complete design intent study, they are still able to use the new signage, fixtures and materials that are part of program.
We want to give the dealers flexibility in the showroom while creating a unique and identifiable look that is consistent with the Subaru brand image, Tilton explains.
Does it Work?
Does the physical environment of a dealership really have an impact on customer attitude? The answer is a resounding yes. In studies, dealerships that receive a Signature of Excellence redesign show significantly higher levels of customer satisfaction than comparable dealerships that have not. The program also increases dealership professionalism, efficiency, and success in meeting customer needs.
The Subaru of America Signature of Excellence retail environment is a true win-win for both Subaru owners and Subaru dealers.